So-called “gentrification” narratives usually begin with the arrival of new neighbours, artists and the bohemian bourgeoisie who, according to the argument, act as bridgeheads in displacing impoverished traditional neighbourhoods and changing their use, in such a way that their presence imbues them with a chic, attractive air for investors and wealthy inhabitants. The processes that took place in Lavapiés at the turn of the last century clearly indicate that these deterministic narratives hide other alternatives in which both new and old neighbours form a frontal alliance to defend a shared life.
Public administrations admittedly attempted to use “the cultural” as a catalyst for transforming neighbourhoods by installing infrastructures designed behind the backs of the true demographics of these neighbourhoods. But art in the hands of neighbours, artists and activists, far from being merely a superficial tool allied with gentrification, served as a unifying force for a will to resist the stakes of capital, as well as a catalyst for new ways of relating and new imaginaries in which life alongside other diversities was not only possible but desirable.
It is vital that we remember and learn from these processes at a time when our cities – and Lavapiés is once again an example – are being subjected to renewed pressure from the new tourism and leisure industry.